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Monday, August 10, 2015

Writing About: A Corpse


I'm over at Unicorn Bell today with....

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Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too graphic here, but as a writer of thrillers I’ve written about many corpses, most of them are at crime scenes, but also in a coroner’s office or other places.

In the past, I have shared posts about Crime Scenes and Murder, but this is the first time I’m focusing solely on a body.

You don’t have to get too descriptive if you don’t want to, but I advise you to consider revealing certain details such as:


1.    Gender

Is the corpse a male or female? This is extremely important to mention just as you would let your readers know the sex of your other characters.

2.    Clothing.

Sharing what the corpse is wearing gives a complete picture for the reader and can even provide details about how the person died. For example: If someone is attacked by a dog or wild animal, his/her clothes will be shredded. But what the corpse is wearing, or not wearing, is also significant as someone who dies in the shower or tub would be naked. Or maybe the corpse is in a bridal gown or tux.

TIP #1: Include other details such as hair and skin color, even height and weight, if possible.

3.    Position

In my short story, Witch of Death, the corpses’ positions are bizarre. Not only are their faces contorted and their arms and legs wrenched in odd angles, but...oh, I can’t tell you! I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out. ;)

TIP #2: The position of the corpse(s) in your story will depend on the manner of his/her death.


4.    Location

Of course you should tell your readers where the corpse is. This should be mentioned well before even the gender of the corpse as we need to know where your MC is when he/she sees this corpse. Is it at a crime scene or in the morgue? If it’s at a crime scene, where is the scene? (A house, in the woods, or an alley?) Describe this setting as you should describe every other setting to give your readers a clear image.

5.    Death

Consider how the person died and let that influence what the corpse (as well as the surroundings) looks like. If the person was shot, there should be a hole in the body, a spray of blood on the wall or ground, and blood-soaked clothes. If his/her neck was cut, the corpse would have a slit across its throat. Has the corpse been in water? The body would then be bloated and waterlogged with black veins. Has the person been dead a long time? If so, certain things like maggots and decomposition come into play.

TIP #3: Do some research and ask someone who works in the medical field to read your scene for accuracy.


QUESTION: Just like I tend to find myself writing about corpses a lot, what do you find yourself frequently writing about?


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84 comments:

  1. Wonderful post. A thorough description of a corpse is a must. LOL I do read and review a lot of books with corpses. :-)
    sherry @ fundinmental

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  2. Sometimes you don't know when a body is going to show up in your book, so this is always great information to know! Good tips.

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  3. great tips, haha, though I don't know if my books will ever have one...great question, I think I'm always finding I have some element of celebrity-hood in my books! :) also, makeup. lol

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    1. Liuke Nicek said, you never know. ;) I've never written about celebrity-hood or makeup but books with both are a lot of fun!

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  4. Sorry the sign up didn't work as advertised.
    I've not placed a dead body in any of my books, but you've given me points to consider if I ever do.

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    1. Thanks. It was really frustrating when I found out it didn't work right.

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  5. I've had corpses scattered about during battles, on death marches, and in concentration-camps, described in a variety of ways. The corpses from a battle like Tarawa stink in the Pacific heat the morning after, whereas the corpses from a battle like the Normandy landings are just scattered across the beach the morning after, in various stages of dismemberment or wounding, without that same kind of intense stench.

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    1. I've written about battles too and describing the dead bodies that result from these fights is a must.

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  6. Love this post! Fabulous tease in the 'position' paragraph :-) Excellent tips,have you ever interviewed anyone in the field?
    For me, whether implied or expressed, elements of supernatural-coincidental-karma tend to sneak, creep or astonish right into many of my stories. So far, bodies of the dear departed have never been found...Ha!

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    1. No, I haven't interview anyone yet. But it would be interesting and very informative to do so.

      Bodies never been found is an intriguing concept.

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  7. It's weird actually seeing a corpse in real life. I've seen a couple in my day. One was when I was training nurses during a midnight shift at a hospital, and I saw a patient pass away.

    The second one was when I was meeting a client who happened to be a crematorium, and he gave me a tour of the place. I saw the room where they process the bodies.

    Yikes!

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    1. I've never seen a corpse in real life and hope I never do. The corpses in my imagination are enough. lol

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  8. I've offed people, but mostly just that, never found any real corpses. Lots to think about with them indeed though

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  9. Great tips! The closest thing to a corpse I've written about was a character stumbling upon someone who was almost dead (it was a fantasy & they were able to bring him back to life). No real dead bodies yet (in writing or real life, actually...)

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    1. Oh! That sounds really good, Sarah! I've had one of my characters stumble upon a dead person who comes back to life.

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  10. Useful tips! Thanks for sharing. :-)

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  11. I write about space travel a lot so I have to keep days straight. It gets complicated. Don't usually have too many bodies to write about.

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    1. Well, I guess that's good. Unless you write about a body floating around in space. Now that could be fun! ;)

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  12. Really insightful thanks for sharing!

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  13. One thing I've ALWAYS loved about your posts is the way you really think about each and every aspect of a topic. And then, you explain it so well! Once again, great post.

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    1. Thank you so much, Cherdo! I try my best. :)

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  14. The position of ghosts is interesting. Hadn't thought of that before. I've never had to view a corpse in a morgue or at the scene. Viewing bodies at a funeral is hard enough because of what funeral homes do the body to preserve them. Never touch a preserved body! At least that's been my advice. I was 'haunted' for years over one experience.

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    1. Yikes! The only funeral I went to was my grandmother's when I was a baby, so I don't have any memory of what she looked like.

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  15. Hi Chrys, I thought you said this wouldn't be gruesome, LOL. Slit throat? Bloatiing? Blood spray? ;) Excellent tips as always. You'll be very proud of me writing my fiction this last week while on a blog break.

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    1. HAHAHA!!!! Well, just mentioning those things shouldn't be too gruesome. But I didn't go into great details about those things like I could have. ;)

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  16. Terrific information. I try to keep my corpses off stage since I write about crime from a psychological perspective. That said, my first novel opens with a mutilated and flayed college student hung nude and spread-eagled from a wooden slab. So much for off stage. ;)

    I write about the weather a lot. I choose words that reflect what’s going on in the story. Cliché, but it’s the only time I really feel comfortable getting “literary.”

    VR Barkowski

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    1. YIKES! I feel sorry for that college student.

      Haha! I write about weather a lot too...especially in my Disaster Crimes series. ;)

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  17. What a great write? not that I could write about a corpse in my poetry.
    I usually write about what has or is happening in my life.
    Yvonne.

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  18. I wondered about that, as there's always an email verification. Done did it again! Looking forward to your first issue!

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  19. I signed up again, hope it works.
    Great information for describing a corpse.

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    1. Thanks, Jeffrey! But I think yours had already gone through. If you get a verification email than it worked the first time. :)

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  20. Hmm. I have to think about this, but I can't recall writing about a corpse. Not yet at least, but I'm keeping your suggestions at the ready in case I need to one day.

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    1. Maybe you will write about a corpse one and those corpses' ghost. ;)

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  21. I'm not a writer but I think its super cool to give helpful hints like this to fellow writers!!

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  22. Signed up again because I hadn't gotten a confirmation email; waiting to see if I get one this time around. I think your descriptions of how to write about corpses were all good ones.

    betty

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    1. Thanks for signing up again, Betty. I had manually added you. :)

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  23. I don't write about corpses at the moment. In fact, I'm kind of avoiding death in my current WIP.

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    1. That's all right. Not every story needs one. :)

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  24. One of my novels starts with a scene in a morgue. I go through the whole jazz of the tint of the skin being different, colder. But he was embalmed and on ice, so no funky smell at that point. I'm thinking of adding details now because of your post, thanks!

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    1. That's awesome! This may sound weird, but I like detailed corpses. lol

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    2. Doesn't sound weird to me. Anything that pulls the reader in completely is what I like best :)

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  25. Great post. In my WIP, my character walks into an arena filled with corpses. So this post is very helpful in describing in more detail of that scene. As for the question, I tend to write more about characters, mostly female, trying to find their path in life. And how they go about it is usually the source of trouble.

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    1. An arena filled with corpses? Whoa! That'll be an interesting scene.

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  26. I don't expect to be writing about corpses. Yet, I found it interesting to consider what you'd need to consider in order to do so.
    #WeekendCoffeeShare @ Life & Faith in Caneyhead

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  27. This is important because people who read the books will know if you know how a corpse is really supposed to look. You have to get it right. Doctors, nurses and all other types who deal with dead people will know. In the film Psycho, when Marion lays dead on the floor and there is a close up of her, Hitchcock got many letters from people in the field saying that her eyes were not dilated. If she were dead, they would be. Excellent info!

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    1. Exactly! It's important to get it right. Just like it's important to get anything in the medical field right.

      I had no idea about that Psycho/Hitchcock story. Thanks for sharing!

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  28. Those tips are great even when you're not writing about corpses. I write a lot about chickens, so I'm sure the clothing tip will be useful, but who knows???

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    1. Haha! I'll let you know when I see a chicken in clothes. ;)

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  29. I'm currently reading a whodunnit where you don't even know who was murdered until half-way though the book. It's fascinating because it takes place in a Big Brother-style house with cameras everywhere and the killer somehow managed to get away with it.

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    1. That's sounds like a strange but interesting book.

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  30. I have to admit, just the word gives me the willies.

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  31. I had a corpse in one of my books. I Googled how long she had been dead so that I could look at pictures and descriptions of corpses with that same level of decomposition. It wasn't fun research.

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  32. Great tips! All the little details make such a difference. Have you ever read Stiff by Mary Roach? It's a funny nonfiction book about different things that are done to cadavers after death. I learned a lot about corpses!

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    1. No. I haven't read Stiff, but I've wanted to for years!

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  33. I follow the cozies rule of bodies off stage. So I guess I write about the whodunit with using gossip,wacky witnesses, etc. It adds more humor than terror. :-)

    Anna from Elements of Writing

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  34. I haven't had to do any corpse descriptions yet, but I loved reading the tips. The details are so important in things like that.

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    1. I agree! And I'm glad you liked my tips. :)

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  35. Excellent tips for writing about corpses. There are so many details to think about.

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  36. Very good points. I'm saving them in case I ever write about corpses.
    Mostly I write about teenage angst and middle grade wanting to belong or family problems. I don't recall any corpses in my stories, maybe a ghost or two, which means they're dead. :)

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    1. Thanks, Beverly!

      There can never be enough stories about teenage angst. I love ghosts! I've included a few of those in my stories too. ;)

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  37. I thought I'd signed up but couldn't find a record, so I signed up again. I get confused easily. :)

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    1. That's okay, Beverly! I believe I added you manually. :)

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  38. Great tips. I like reading the gross details too.

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    1. You need gross details when it comes to a corpse.

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  39. Ooh, good information - I have corpses in my current WIP but it's not a crime scene kind of MS - just a couple of bodies lying around so I mentioned flies and the smell. yuck! :)

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    1. The smell has to be the worst thing and so hard to describe with words.

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  40. ew! dead people! but i guess i have a few in my thriller series or it wouldn't be much of a thriller series! i should probably do more research, thanks for helping us refine the details!

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    1. Good point! Thrillers need dead people. ;)

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  41. Great post as always Chrys. Yes you did do a great job with the dead in Witch of Death. Very graphic and believable, sorta.

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